Meet the Founder: Interview with Shannon Riesenfeld, Mango & Main
Meet Shannon Riesenfeld, owner and founder of Mango & Main,
a fair trade boutique on a mission to bring handmade products from lands where mangoes grow to main street, U.S.A. After working over 5 years with other fair trade companies and making personal connections with artisans, Shannon started Mango & Main.
Today she’s sharing with us her story, what fair trade really means, and how she makes a business work with partners who are across the globe.
What inspired you to start Mango & Main? How did your path lead you to where you are now?
I worked as an Ambassador for Noonday Collection for over 5 years and had the privilege of traveling to visit many of their artisan partners. I learned about how job creation had transformed communities and interrupted the cycle of poverty for families. I also met several artisan groups while traveling with my husband to Haiti, Peru, and South Africa who desired to introduce their products to the U.S. marketplace and needed assistance. Additionally, I worked on a fair trade fashion blog for several years (@thefairtradefashionistas) and had countless messages from artisans who wanted help with introducing their work to customers. I decided to start Mango + Main to provide business opportunities for artisan groups that need buyers and U.S. market exposure.
What was your vision when you first started? Has it changed?
When I first started, I thought Mango + Main’s primary function would be as a distributor and wholesaler for specific artisan groups. Over time, I found that we were taking financial losses in the wholesale process, so we’ve had to adjust a bit and remove some products from our wholesale collection. I also discovered that I love being a local resource for customers in Annapolis, Maryland who want to shop fair trade. We don’t have a lot of fair trade retail options here in our small town, but we have a large community of consumers who want to make a difference with their purchases. In the future, we’ll be adding more products to our collection to meet those demands, and my ultimate goal is to open a brick and mortar location here in Annapolis.
What is your best advice for consumers who are trying to shop more ethically?
Start small and don’t get overwhelmed. Instead of thinking of it as a whole lifestyle change, just look for opportunities to use your purchasing power for good. For example, if you need a gift for a friend, check fair trade online shops first before heading to Target or Amazon. When it comes to clothing, the main key is just buying LESS. The only way this industry is going to change is when we start decreasing the demand for fast (and cheap) fashion. When we’re more intentional with our purchases, we can spend a little more and choose brands that care.
What would you say is the most rewarding part of owning Mango + Main? What would you say is the most challenging?
Traveling to meet with artisans is by far my favorite thing! I would happily live as their next-door neighbors if I could. Having the opportunity to connect with these women, build friendships, and see the difference that employment is making on their lives (and their familes!) is worth everything to me.
The most challenging part of my job is the day-to-day marketing and sales…. But it’s also the most important. Without customers to buy the products, there’s no point in even having a fair trade company.
People often say to me, “What you’re doing is so amazing!” to which I respond: “What YOU do is more amazing! I’m simply offering a product made by an artisan… it’s your purchase that makes the impact!”
What are some of your favorite ethical brands that you love to shop and support?
Oh, I have so many! My friends at The Sparrow Studio, Abby Alley, and The Mustard Seed Marketplace are my lifeline. They offer me daily encouragement, so I love to support their shops. And after years working at Noonday Collection, I will always support their work and encourage every woman to become an ambassador or host a trunk show! They are making a HUGE impact. For clothing and shoes, I love shopping at Pact, The Root Collective, Mata Traders, Liz Alig, and Sudara.
Mango & Main has recently become a member of the Fair Trade Federation (woohoo!). What would you say fair trade means and why is so important?
Such a huge honor for Mango and Main! I’ve always admired the FTF and the high standards they promote in our industry.
Fairtrade is the opportunity to make an impact in marginalized communities through job creation. It’s more than just paying a fair wage and ensuring a healthy work environment: it’s about truly caring for the artisans you work with, developing long term relationships, and doing everything you can to set them up for success. Often this means purchasing materials upfront for an order, extending zero-interest loans, providing training, and offering emergency assistance. When customers see the Fair Trade Federation symbol, they can trust that their purchase is really making a difference and that this company is going above and beyond just “ethical” practices.
When you’re creating new products and pieces for Mango + Main what is the design process like?
It’s different for every group, but typically a new order starts with a visit to the artisans. We review past designs, look at new design ideas, review materials, and talk about future orders and timelines. I always start with their ideas and offer modifications based on current U.S. fashion trends.
I’m sure having business partners all the way across the world can have its fair share of challenges. How do you manage communication and collaboration?
When I can’t be there in person to meet, we either use a Pinterest board to share design ideas or use WhatsApp and email to share photos and sketches. For the women in Rwanda, for example, they will go shopping at the market for new fabrics and then text photos to me over WhatsApp.
What can we look forward to seeing from Mango + Main in the upcoming year?
We have lots of new jewelry on the way from our partner group in Haiti, and I’m definitely excited to see that group grow. We’re also introducing leather bags from Tanzania through our partnership with Abby Alley and they are STUNNING. I hope to add more home goods and gift items to our collection throughout the year.
I plan on doing more pop-ups and in-person events around Annapolis, as well as scouting out a location for a future storefront.
Connect with Mango + Main
You can always shop online at www.mangoandmain.com
Sign up for our email list on the website to be the first to hear about sales and new arrivals
Follow us on Instagram to see news about our travels and new products